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On Giving: A New Year’s Resolution

December 31, 2010

Dozens of friends, family members and strangers have been forking over some big-ass bucks towards this little project I’ve taken on. This humbles me, because, as we all know, giving money is hard. So I’m taking a moment and reflecting on the wonderfulness that is giving away money for a cause that needs it.

I’m spending this New Year’s in Hippytown Texas (Austin, the state’s capital), which is hands down one of my favorite North American cities. I’ve been staying with a good friend and her family, soaking up the gorgeous sunshine, jogging in tank tops and strutting around in short sleeves, and enjoying the vibrant, drawling culture of hipster cafés and taco stands, groovy country dance halls and  mammoth-sized health food stores.

And it was in one of those mammoth-sized health stores that I stumbled upon some free new-agey magazine, and read an article giving 10 new-agey tips to have a spiritually and financially prosperous new year. Along with advice such as “Appreciate Each Moment” and “Be True to Your Heart”, was a slightly more quantifiable bit of advice:

Give 10 percent of your income to people who need it more.

Now, I’ve been in going through some pretty lean times lately. And it’s looking like, if all goes as planned, I may just be able break even  this winter and spring, with the gigs I have conducting community music groups and the little work I’m doing at a local designer’s shop. Ten percent of the bare minimum is a helluva lot. I’m not sure I can part with it.

And yet I’ve been thinking about this notion of tithing. The article I read stressed the significance of this age-old 10-percent custom – the more you give, the more ready you are to receive. My own ancestors, likely impoverished and persecuted Russian farmers, being religious Jews would no doubt have kept up with this important tithing mitzvah. They would have found a way to make it work. And so can I.

I spent a glorious morning today running a 5-mile loop along the Austin river. It’s magnificent to be able to run in a tank top, in bright sun, no snow underfoot, smack in the middle of winter. It was the kind of run that just felt so cleansing, so spiritual, so primal and great, like I was wringing out all kind of negativity from my muscles – like a child, just running for joy. Hundreds of other Austinites were out on this popular Hike-and-Bike trail, enjoying this beautiful last day of 2010 with their friends, dogs or ipods. I felt full of gratitude with every stride.

And though I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, I made a commitment on that run that for 2011, I will donate 100 dollars every month to people who need it more.

100 bucks a month is a lot for me. But people have been donating cash by the hundreds to me left-right-and-centre to my diabetes race, and it’s inspiring. I think of the change I am capable of making if I commit mindfully to it, and it excites me to take on this New Year’s resolution.

Think of what 100 dollars a month can do! There is a foundation that supports children in developing countries living with diabetes, providing them with affordable insulin and test strips. I think they’ll be seeing a lot of cash from me. And there’s also a wonderful performing arts camp I worked at a few summers ago that has a scholarship program. If I could help an underprivileged kid go to that life-changing camp for a week I’d be overjoyed. And I guess I could always sponsor a child for 30 bux a month, or contribute to my friend’s grandma’s charity which supports grandmothers in an African village who are raising their AIDS-orphaned grandkids.

And if I can find a way to discipline myself financially to give 100 bux a month, I should be able to find a way to save 100 bux a month as well. There’s a good chance that prioritizing giving money during this very lean season might actually end up bringing abundance to me in new and surprising ways.

They say that what you do on New Year’s Day sets the tone for what you’ll do for the year. I’m not one for big raucous New Year’s Eves – my friend and I will likely go out to a gay two-stepping bar for the early part of the night, and may even be home in PJs before midnight (we’ve got plenty of Rogers and Hammerstein sheet music to sing through, after all). Tomorrow, however, I’ve got plans. I’d like to run a 7-mile loop along the Hike and Bike trail, and then I’m scheduled to volunteer an afternoon shift at a local community wellness centre and restaurant, preparing yummy organic-macrobiotic food for the evening’s dinner guests. Running, cooking, and sharing my time to better the lives of others – three things I hope to have much of in 2011.

It’s been a helluva year. It’s been a great year. The challenges have been intense and beautiful, and I’m just so happy to have my health and happiness on this balmy Austin winter day. I do, in many ways, feel abundantly wealthy. I am happy to share as much of it as I can.

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